Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of articles by Crux’s Rome Bureau Chief Ines San Martin on the situation of the Chilean Church.
SANTIAGO, Chile – Chile, a Latin American nation of 18 million people where the Catholic Church dominated society for centuries and was revered for decades as the main source of moral opposition to Pinochet, more recently has been home to what is arguably the single most intense clerical sexual abuse crisis anywhere in the world.
If you don’t know the story of what’s happened in Chile, it’s hard to appreciate just how massive, and painful, this crisis has been.
In May 2018, every Chilean bishop presented their resignation to Pope Francis, who so far has accepted 9, five of them from prelates who are under the age of 75, meaning they cannot claim the pope released them from their duties because they’re over the retirement age.
Many locals suspect they know why the pontiff yanked these bishops, including Gonzalo Duarte of Valparaiso, who’s long been accused of covering up crimes allegedly committed in his local seminary, and who’s been summoned by the prosecutor’s office to testify on those charges and also on charges that he abused his position, demanding massages, hugs and kisses from unwilling seminarians.
Just removing bishops, however, seems unlikely to satisfy Chileans scarred by the scandals.
“For the Chilean Church to actually follow a zero-tolerance approach, it’d be good if the men Pope Francis has appointed as apostolic administrators could have an example of this from the Vatican,” said Father Eugenio de la Fuente.
De la Fuente, a diocesan priest from Santiago, was part of the second group of survivors of former priest Fernando Karadima who were welcomed by Francis in Rome last year. The group included several priests formed by Chile’s most infamous pedophile priest, two clerics who’ve long helped his victims, and Karadima’s younger brother.
His connection to the man removed from the clerical state by Francis last year, after he was suspended from ministry in 2011, means that De la Fuente is conscious of the fact that not only he was hurt by Karadima, but that some of the actions of the 40 priests who were close to him have hurt others, deepening the division within the clergy of Chile’s capital.
“The great problem of the presbytery in Santiago is that for different reasons most of us ascribed to certain religious ideologies,” De la Fuente explained.
Karadima was the face of the “conservative” Church in Chile, but on the opposite side there was also Cristian Precht, removed from the priesthood last year, after he was temporarily suspended from ministry by Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati. During the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Precht was a hero to leftists for his defense of human rights.
Ezzati, 78, was removed from Santiago by Francis earlier this year, replaced by Bishop Celestino Aos, who’s currently holding the temporary position of apostolic administrator. Ezzati too, has been summoned by the local prosecutors’ office, though the lead prosecutor on the many open cases against the Church is currently under investigation himself for abuse of power.
And then there is Jesuit priest Renato Poblete, who’s been accused by enough women of sexual abuse and of forcing them to have abortions that the Company of Jesus supported a government decision to remove a statue in his honor that was placed in a national park after he died in 2010.
These three priests ministered to Chile’s elite; left-leaning, social justice-oriented young Catholics; and old-school charitable activists serving the poor through homes and shelters.
Karadima, Precht and Poblete also had their hands in the local seminary and the formation of young priests.
“Either because of personal sin, because we were naïve or flat-out stupid, most of us identified with certain ideologies, were led by one of these gurus, and today this causes great animosity,” De la Fuente said.
“I was a member of El Bosque, and I’m aware that we fueled animosities by a way of being that was wrong, and many of us acknowledge it,” he told Crux in an interview last week. “If we realize that the ideologies to which we ascribe ourselves had gestures, ways of being, of thinking and of judging that were completely sinful, and we lower our guard and unite in a desire to serve others, I believe we can be reconciled.”
“But there’s a long way to go still, and we all have to be very willing to achieve this reconciliation,” he said. “Many animosities remain, and this cannot go on as is.”
Speaking more broadly about the situation of the Church in Chile, De la Fuente said that the work being accomplished by the apostolic administrators appointed by Francis in the past year has been uneven. Some, De la Fuente said, are doing “serious work,” while others “are not treating survivors as they should, they’re not carrying out the necessary investigations, focused instead on maintaining the status quo.”
Some of these administrators even allowed for their predecessors to concelebrate in the Easter Week celebrations, which caused great uproar.
Though not one to clear the local church of wrongdoing, De la Fuente also points to the bigger issue: “If a diocese is expected to uphold the principle of zero tolerance, it should be by following the example of the world’s greatest ‘diocese,’ the Vatican.”
“I don’t see that example in many areas of the Holy See,” the priest said. “I understand that running the place is extremely complicated and that things take time. But why is Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who’s been accused of being involved in many cases of corruption, including the appointment of bishops in Chile, living in an apartment in the Vatican gardens?”
De la Fuente is convinced that Sodano knew of the wrongdoings of Mexican Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legion of Christ, who was found guilty by the Vatican in 2006 of various forms of sexual abuse and misconduct.
“Why is it that we still don’t know what happened?” De la Fuente asked. “If Pope John Paul II knew, then tell us as much. But if he didn’t, don’t let people like Sodano muddy his legacy with their silence and impunity.”